The Zhuang of East Asia

O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples.

Psalm 96:1-3 NRS

Nong walks steadily along the straight path through the rice paddies and lifts his eyes to see smoke rising from cooking fires in the village. It’s been a long day in the fields. Crossing a beautifully decorated wooden bridge, Nong wearily approaches the shelter of his home and, after placing his tools in the stable below, climbs the wood steps to the raised wooden house. Entering a sparsely furnished large room, he looks up at the ancestral spirit shelf and notices a freshly lit incense stick in place, its smoke meandering up into the wood rafters. His eyes lower and Nong smiles, glad to see his wife Liu is home and preparing their family’s meal in their one-room house.

“I visited the school this morning,” says Liu, her trembling voice betraying her concern. “It was about Huang.” Their only son Huang is out running an errand. He attends grade six and is having difficulty with his studies. Before Liu turns to tend to the smoky cooking fire, she gives Nong a long, grave look. High rates of illiteracy are common in rural Zhuang villages and only one in four Zhuang children finish 6th Grade. Nong and Liu had planned that Huang would not only complete his primary studies but also pass the entrance exam to the government high school located in the next town. They were hoping his academic success would lead to good work in the city.

As the sun sets, Nong, Liu and Huang enjoy their meal of sticky rice and pickled vegetables. Amidst sips of tasty oil tea, Nong hears a group of village women and men strike up an antiphonal song in the distance. The familiar music, sung back and forth between the men and women, temporarily relieves the heaviness of his heart. It is a love song, much like the one he’d shared with Liu when they began courting during a songfest, for which the Zhuang are famous.

Nong has a restless night’s sleep and then, in the twilight of dawn, he stands before the high ancestral shelf, rocking back and forth, chanting prayers while holding fresh sticks of burning incense ready to be placed on the shelf. Will his prayers for Huang’s studies be heard?

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

John 14:6 NRS

The Zhuang people number about 18 million and are the largest of the 55 minority people groups officially recognized by the People’s Republic of China. Over ninety percent of the Zhuang live in Guangxi Province and, though some live in the cities, the majority still live in rural villages or the very remote countryside. Thirteen major dialect groups have been identified within the Zhuang identity, but up to 50 different sub-dialects exist. Many dialects are mutually unintelligible, and in some places village peoples cannot even communicate in their language with other nearby Zhuang villages. This makes for a very significant challenge in sharing the Good News.

The Zhuang are gifted with a culture of singing and are famous for their song festivals and antiphonal singing. In fact, they seem to have a song for almost any occasion, singing almost anywhere and at any time.

The vast majority of the Zhuang hold that each day is influenced by the intervention of evil spirits, ancestral spirits and the ghosts of the departed, and so they practice various rituals and ceremonies for power and blessing. Their traditional animistic beliefs and ancestral worship may also incorporate Chinese religious practices from Taoism, Buddhism or Confucianism. Fewer than 1% of the Zhuang are followers of Jesus.

Pray for the Zhuang

  •  That the good seed planted among them would flourish and become a viable church-planting movement.
  • That the Lord of the harvest would send workers specifically equipped to develop an oral system of biblical teaching that relates to the everyday life and oral learning of the Zhuang.
  • That those who believe would grow in discipleship and stand firm in their faith, especially those who cannot read, so as not to be easily deceived by false teaching.
  • For accessible media to communicate the Good News for the Zhuang: production of more radio programs, recorded Bible stories, gospel messages and The Jesus Film into the various dialects, in a wide variety of media… and for widespread distribution among the Zhuang people.
  • That the Lord would raise up talented artists and musicians to encourage Zhuang believers to develop their own love songs for Jesus and learn how to incorporate their new birth into their everyday singing and crafts.